Review of Shipler's the Working Poor

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In David K. Shipler’s book, The Working Poor Invisible in America the reader is provided a peek into the personal stories of the inner lives of eight families struggling inside the vicious cycle of poverty. Shipler’s method of interviews, narratives of personal stories and observation represents an innovative study investigating the working poor in an attempt to understand “how people in real communities devise collective responses to their problems (Segal, 2010).” A.Barriers

In a absorbing way that made me cringe at times, Shipler allows these ‘invisible’ poor to narrate in their personal stories the structural, social, economic and cultural barriers that impact the families. Although I tend to disagree, Shipler admits that one major cause of poverty can be traced to a single source: unfortunate personal choices. He clarifies that although not choosing to be poor, people time after time make unilateral, self-serving, short-sighted, choices, including walking away from their responsibilities as a parent, dropping out of school, ignoring their moral and religious values, and from regimented occupation habits. Instead, they turn to an all too familiar pattern of drugs, violent domestic relationships, early pregnancy and a cycle of hereditary welfare passed down from their parents (Shipler, 2004).

Individual barriers and choices are not the only reason people are poor. The government seems absent in its efforts to assist. The Earned Income Tax credit is too complicated and few families realize they have the right to claim the EIC. More importantly, as we learned in our discussion and video in this social policy class, ever since the Earned Income Tax credit was instituted in 1999, the working class poor have higher numbers of audits than individuals of higher tax brackets (Segal, 2010). This increase in audits was fueled by Republican leaders fear that poor people were abusing this tax credit. Subsequently, these audits have raised the working poor’s fear of the I.R.S and numerous companies have swooped in to take advantage of those fears and misunderstandings. Companies such as H&R Block charge huge fees for tax preparation and filing along with exorbitant fees for refunds in temporary bank accounts that many of the working poor can’t afford due to banks requirement of minimum high balance and subsequent access fees if you fall below that minimum. Social security taxes regressive structure takes entirely too much of poor people’s income, which in turn deter any motivation to work. In addition, there is no monetary incentive for employers in the tax system to “hire, train and motivate ill-educated workers (Shipler, 2004).

The very nature and definition of our government’s poverty guidelines are confusing, misleading and broken. The formula used to calculate the definition of poverty was designed over forty years ago (Jimenez, 2010). The model set in 1955 used a formula that provided 1/3 of the family income for food budget. This is no longer realistic, since today’s families only spend 1/6 of the family income on food (Jimenez, 2010).

For those walking a tightrope of poverty, getting a raise at work can actually feel like punishment. The government formula that calculates the allotment of quantity of food stamps and rental subsidy benefits allowable is based upon the recipient’s income level (Shipler, 2004). A pay raise can decrease the portion of the recipient’s allowable benefits, which would mean having to pay more out of pocket for food and rent (Segal, 2010)(Jimenez, 2010).

Children of poverty do not have the quality of education needed to allow a success in life. Our state educational system heavily favors the rich due to inequitable school funding. Funding is based in large part by property taxes thereby leaving schools in poorer areas with not enough money to get the materials needed to teach (Jimenez, 2010). The impoverished inner-city and working poor neighborhoods with run-down, dilapidated...
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